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Thread: What is Western Culture?

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    What is Western Culture?



    I've seen people use different definitions for Western Culture/Civilization. Sometimes it means Western Rome's legacy in Western Europe, Greek legacy in Europe(and the Middle East), post-Enlightenment Capitalist Industrial North America and Western Europe, Christendom Medieval Western Europe(Catholic Church). I think some of you here like Maciamo and Angela could give good answers.

    To some people I think it just means being of European/White decent. I think some people if asked would consider the Amish or Saami Western but wouldn't consider African Americans Western. Some people would consider Spanish of the 1600s Western but wouldn't consider modern Hispanics in America Western. Do you guys agree the Western cultural label is almost as much about race to some as it is about culture?

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    I think you are making one big mistake considering a skin colour or shape of head or nose as a part of culture. One aspect is strictly genetic, the other almost entirely learnet.
    Be wary of people who tend to glorify the past, underestimate the present, and demonize the future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Haired14 View Post
    I've seen people use different definitions for Western Culture/Civilization. Sometimes it means Western Rome's legacy in Western Europe, Greek legacy in Europe(and the Middle East), post-Enlightenment Capitalist Industrial North America and Western Europe, Christendom Medieval Western Europe(Catholic Church). I think some of you here like Maciamo and Angela could give good answers.

    To some people I think it just means being of European/White decent. I think some people if asked would consider the Amish or Saami Western but wouldn't consider African Americans Western. Some people would consider Spanish of the 1600s Western but wouldn't consider modern Hispanics in America Western. Do you guys agree the Western cultural label is almost as much about race to some as it is about culture?
    The term doesn't mean anything and it is mostly political. Today it is more close to 'post-Enlightenment Capitalist Industrial North America and Western Europe' but not exactly that.
    Politically, 'the West' today is
    "EU28/EEA, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand". (That's the definition used by Norwegian statistics bureau).

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    it depends on how you define European culture and what meaning you give to it

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    2 members found this post helpful.
    "Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society or European civilization is a term used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe, to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonisation, or influence. For example, Western Culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are currently European.Western culture is characterized by a host of artistic, philosophic, literary, and legal themes and traditions; the heritage of Greek, Roman, Jewish,[1]Celtic, Slavic, and other ethnic and linguistic groups,[2][better source needed][3][better source needed] as well as Christianity including the Roman Catholic Church,[4][5][6] and the Orthodox Church,[7][8]which played an important part in the shaping of Western civilization since at least the 4th century.[9][10][11][12][13] Before the Cold War era, the traditional Western viewpoint identified Western Civilization with the Western Christian (Catholic-Protestant) countries and culture.[14][15]
    A cornerstone of Western thought, beginning in ancient Greece and continuing through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and into modern times, is a tradition of rationalism in various spheres of life, developed by Hellenistic philosophy, Scholasticism, humanism, the Scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Values of Western culture have, throughout history, been derived from political thought, widespread employment of rational argument favouring freethought, assimilation of human rights, the need for equality, and democracy."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_culture

    I have nothing to add to that. This is what every Western Civ course teaches.

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    The Western Civilization started in Greece, but the Hellenic Civilization started in the Northern Mesopotamia (among the Sumerians/Gutians of Kurdistan)...

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    Sumerians built the FIRST cities. Sumerians not only invented the writing system, but also the advanced mathematics (algebra, geometry). The Sumerians developed a system of numbers based on a unit of 60. We still use their development of time measurement, 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour and the division of a circle into 360 degrees. Also divided a week in 7 days (invented by the ancient Gutians of Kurdistan ~ 2600BC). Etc..

    http://www.storyofmathematics.com/sumerian.html


    Greek philosophers took many things from the ancient Iranians/Aryans (Medes & Persians), from the Zoroastrian philosophy.



    " Sumer (a region of Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq) was the birthplace of writing, the wheel, agriculture, the arch, the plow, irrigation and many other innovations, and is often referred to as the Cradle of Civilization. The Sumerians developed the earliest known writing system - a pictographic writing system known as cuneiform script, using wedge-shaped characters inscribed on baked clay tablets - and this has meant that we actually have more knowledge of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian mathematics than of early Egyptian mathematics. Indeed, we even have what appear to school exercises in arithmetic and geometric problems.

    The Sumerian System, called "sexagesimal", combined a mundane 10... with a "celestial" 6, to obtain the base figure 60. This system is in some ways superior to our present one, and much superior to later Greek and Roman systems. It enabled Sumerians to divide into fractions and multiply into the million, to calculate roots or raise numbers several powers.
    "

    http://www.mathematicsmagazine.com/A...p#.WHaPpIWcGUk

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    So is this correct....

    "Western Culture/Civilization"=European Cultures/Civilizations. So it is partially defined by race(being in Europe or derived from Europe)? But there are some specifics which cross racial borders; influence from ancient Greek thinkers(Which helped create Renaissance, Enlightenment, and academics), Christianity, and Capitalism(?).

    Here's a question for everyone. Are African Americans more Western than the Amish? I definitely think so. I have a textbook which considers White Americans and Europeans Western but doesn't consider African Americans Western. We definitely share more in common with African Americans than French. So it kind of annoys me people restrict Western Culture to European-descended people when descendants of European colonies are racially mixed countries. If Latin Americans weren't admixed with Native Americans and didn't have brown skin I guarantee you they'd be considered Western.

    Quote Originally Posted by bicicleur View Post
    it depends on how you define European culture and what meaning you give to it
    That's kind of what I think.

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    I would say that western civilization begin with and as quoted by Angela
    the traditional Western viewpoint identified Western Civilization with the Western Christian (Catholic-Protestant) countries and culture.
    Maciamo has good article on the Franks and western world which is bit patriotic but i agree with it;
    http://www.eupedia.com/europe/franki...n_europe.shtml

    We mention various influences and want to make it one but we still make distinction between west and east,ocidental and oriental,catholic or orthodox,so let me add;
    While i will say that the Franks were influenced or rather copied from previous Roman world,such is religion,code of law,claiming themselves to be Romans,the kings claiming heritage of Constantine by church,law etc,without this knowledge how to run an empire i personaly doubt they could ever unite the disorganized "pagan" tribes and make an empire.Just see how the "disorganized" Celts previosly ended even brave as they were,their "invasions" were the biggest mistake and end for them instead,which is agreed among historians.The religion in my opinion didn't worked so well for old Roman empire because they knew more and divide into "sects" and regions which will lead to emerging of new empires in diferent regions.
    Greeks copied much of their knowledge from Egyptians which was not secret to the wise among them,Rome from previous and son on..
    The foundation of today western world is legacy of the establishment of western empire by Franks and their descendants and allies.While the more modern world from age of enlightenment,the power was still there from that foundation.The old power vanished,still i don't see neither Greece nor Italy as most powerful or developed countries on our continent,i don't like to insult anyone with this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Haired14 View Post
    So is this correct....

    "Western Culture/Civilization"=European Cultures/Civilizations. So it is partially defined by race(being in Europe or derived from Europe)? But there are some specifics which cross racial borders; influence from ancient Greek thinkers(Which helped create Renaissance, Enlightenment, and academics), Christianity, and Capitalism(?).

    Here's a question for everyone. Are African Americans more Western than the Amish? I definitely think so. I have a textbook which considers White Americans and Europeans Western but doesn't consider African Americans Western. We definitely share more in common with African Americans than French. So it kind of annoys me people restrict Western Culture to European-descended people when descendants of European colonies are racially mixed countries. If Latin Americans weren't admixed with Native Americans and didn't have brown skin I guarantee you they'd be considered Western.



    That's kind of what I think.
    Fire-Haired, the statement which I quoted does include Latin Americans. I agree with that. As to African-Americans, of course they're now part of the western cultural tradition. Most of their ancestors weren't part of creating it, however.

    I don't like excluding any group or comparing groups as to whether they are more or less part of western civilization. I think one could say, however, and be factual, that the Amish have turned their backs on some modern manifestations of the European/western cultural tradition.

    The Greeks started the European cultural tradition. If they aren't European, then it doesn't exist.

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    2 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Haired14 View Post
    So is this correct....

    "Western Culture/Civilization"=European Cultures/Civilizations. So it is partially defined by race(being in Europe or derived from Europe)?
    Western Culture/Civilization started in Greece (Europe) and later spread mostly across the whole Europe. So, yeah it is an 'European' phenomenon.

    I think that the 'European Civilization' started with and can be specifically defined by 'rationality'. Rationality and 'rational thinking' is something very 'European'. IMO it started with the causality (cause and effect) of Aristotle. This was the moment when a stone started rolling. People like Socrates & Plato also heavily contributed at the beginning of the Western Civilization.
    Last edited by Goga; 12-01-17 at 00:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goga View Post
    Western Culture/Civilization started in Greece (Europe) and later spread mostly across the whole Europe. So, yeah it is an 'European' phenomenon.

    I think that the 'European Civilization' started and can be specifically defined by 'rationality'. Rationality and 'rational thinking' is something very 'European'. IMO it started with the causality (cause and effect) of Aristotle. This was the moment when a stone started rolling. People like Socrates & Plato also heavily contributed at the beginning of the Western Civilization.
    Excellent point, Goga.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goga View Post
    Western Culture/Civilization started in Greece (Europe) and later spread mostly across the whole Europe. So, yeah it is an 'European' phenomenon.

    I think that the 'European Civilization' started and can be specifically defined by 'rationality'. Rationality and 'rational thinking' is something very 'European'. IMO it started with the causality (cause and effect) of Aristotle. This was the moment when a stone started rolling. People like Socrates & Plato also heavily contributed at the beginning of the Western Civilization.
    yes, but it all was forgotten for 1500 years or so

    it's ony when people like Gallileo or Copernicus or Newton came around that further progress was made
    they made the first universal laws

    it was the base for the industrial revolution to follow

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    I contend that 'the West' cannot be understood without Castoriadis' concept of alterity: the Occident is defined by its contraposition with regards to the contrasting entity of the Orient. Without an entity that it stands in opposition to, the concept of the West falls apart due to a lack of internal continuity. For example, I can't think of a place more alien to the modern European than ancient Greece, yet the Greek heritage is usually considered to be a cornerstone of the European tradition. The Medieval states were in every conceivable way closer to modern Saudi Arabia than to, say, contemporary Iceland to give another obvious example.

    If there are defining influences that could be tenuously linked to the emergence of the modern West the Enlightenment would probably come to mind, and more specifically perhaps Kant and his successors. Though in practice I'd think even these are not nearly as important as the changes brought about by consumer capitalism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkoZ View Post
    I contend that 'the West' cannot be understood without Castoriadis' concept of alterity: the Occident is defined by its contraposition with regards to the contrasting entity of the Orient. Without an entity that it stands in opposition to, the concept of the West falls apart due to a lack of internal continuity. For example, I can't think of a place more alien to the modern European than ancient Greece, yet the Greek heritage is usually considered to be a cornerstone of the European tradition. The Medieval states were in every conceivable way closer to modern Saudi Arabia than to, say, contemporary Iceland to give another obvious example.

    If there are defining influences that could be tenuously linked to the emergence of the modern West the Enlightenment would probably come to mind, and more specifically perhaps Kant and his successors. Though in practice I'd think even these are not nearly as important as the changes brought about by consumer capitalism.
    I do understand that the 'modern' Europe started with the 'Peace of Westphalia'. But there have always been shifts of paradigm. I think you are confusing concepts like liberalism and capitalism with the Western Civilization. You are actually devaluating the whole Western Civilization. The Western Civilization is much more than liberalism and capitalism. It is going much further/deeper into the history. What about the concept of the so called 'democracy' in the city state of Athens?

    With other words: you are only talking about the 'modern' Europe. But what about the 'ancient' Europe? The Western Civilization and the modern way of the European thinking/reasoning started IN the ancient Europe. Without the 'ancient' Europe (Greeks & Romans) there would be never the 'modern' Europe!

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    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Goga View Post
    Western Culture/Civilization started in Greece (Europe) and later spread mostly across the whole Europe. So, yeah it is an 'European' phenomenon.

    I think that the 'European Civilization' started with and can be specifically defined by 'rationality'. Rationality and 'rational thinking' is something very 'European'. IMO it started with the causality (cause and effect) of Aristotle. This was the moment when a stone started rolling. People like Socrates & Plato also heavily contributed at the beginning of the Western Civilization.
    You know, I have recently (one to two years) started to read Aristotle (Eudemian Ethics, Politics and started to read in a bookshop this Christmas On the Soul) and it has been a very enriched experience. It certainly puts things (and particularly your thought) in perspective, and you do see that he has no second intentions (that I noticed) when he treats his subjects.

    I think one of the reasons for this has to do with the word philosophy – which can account for “friend of wisdom” / “love for knowledge” (If there is a Greek member that can confirm this, please). This means that you are not competing for an idea, or for your idea to prevail over others, at least not with that intention or finality – it simply cares about the finding of knowledge by logic arguments – this is at least where I am right now regarding philosophy and/or Aristotle.

    I must add that I do not have an academic degree on Philosophy.

    EDIT - but sorry, maybe a little off topic
    Last edited by João Soares; 12-01-17 at 04:15.

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    2 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by bicicleur View Post
    yes, but it all was forgotten for 1500 years or so

    it's ony when people like Gallileo or Copernicus or Newton came around that further progress was made
    they made the first universal laws

    it was the base for the industrial revolution to follow
    In my opinion that isn't precisely accurate Bicicleur. Later Scholasticism was based on the writings of Aristotle, and to a lesser degree on Neo-Platonism. It was only later during the Renaissance in Italy, and especially at the court of the Medici that Plato sort of overtook Aristotle. Of the two I'm inclined more to the Aristotelian view.

    "Scholasticism is not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, as it places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation; a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents' responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponents' arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.As a program, scholasticism began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christian thinkers, to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism.[3]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism

    Again, imo, your comment is largely correct about the scientific method.

    The Socratic method, which is a type of dialectic method, is the teaching method at virtually every law school in the U.S. and many around the world.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic

    @Joao Soares,

    As I said above, I lean more toward Aristotle than Plato. Both of the books you mentioned are very enlightening.



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    Quote Originally Posted by João Soares View Post
    You know, I have recently (one to two years) started to read Aristotle (Eudemian Ethics, Politics and started to read in a bookshop this Christmas On the Soul) and it has been a very enriched experience. It certainly puts things (and particularly your thought) in perspective, and you do see that he has no second intentions (that I noticed) when he treats his subjects.

    I think one of the reasons for this has to do with the word philosophy – which can account for “friend of wisdom” / “love for knowledge”? (If there is a Greek member that can confirm this, please). This means that you are not competing for an idea, or for your idea to prevail over others, at least not with that intention or finality – it simply cares about the finding of knowledge by logic arguments – this is at least where I am right now regarding philosophy and/or Aristotle.

    I must add that I do not have an academic degree on Philosophy.

    EDIT - but sorry, maybe a little off topic
    The most imporant development/effect of ontological apporoach on some of fundamental issues by Aristotle is that it paved the way for (heavily influenced) phenomenology. You can see phenomenology as a very imporant part of the postmodern philosophical movement. It was practised by existentialist thinkers like Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl and hermeneutic thinkers like Heidegger who explicated methologies that studied NorthEuropean Protestant writings in a more 'secular'/humanistic way.

    But I don't think that he 'invented' ontology since it was (together with phenomenology) already practised by the ancient Zoroastrian (Magi), Hindu (Vedas) and Buddhist philosophers/priests.

    But Aristotle's investigation of causality was really groundbreaking : https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/


    In regard to the theory of knowledge and actual justification of it; it is part of the philosophy called epistemology. Indeed, I believe that epistemologal methology (empiricism) can be also ascribed to the Aristotle's school of thoughts. He was maybe the first. Epistemology is not defined by 'what' is the truth, but by 'how' you can find the truth =
    causal knowledge + empiricism (sensory experience, in practise deductive/inductive reasoning).

    Ontology = what is the truth : Aristotle & Plato
    Epistemology = how you can find the truth : Aristotle


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenom...y_(philosophy)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonic_epistemology
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism
    Last edited by Goga; 12-01-17 at 06:56. Reason: confused aristotle with plato

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goga View Post
    I do understand that the 'modern' Europe started with the 'Peace of Westphalia'. But there have always been shifts of paradigm. I think you are confusing concepts like liberalism and capitalism with the Western Civilization. You are actually devaluating the whole Western Civilization. The Western Civilization is much more than liberalism and capitalism. It is going much further/deeper into the history. What about the concept of the so called 'democracy' in the city state of Athens?
    I'd say it's largely the myh of democracy that links the modern Western system to Athenian democracy. A clever use of (in the most benign meaning of the term) political propaganda, but not really accurate. If the Hellenes were alive, they would probably classify the political system in the West as a sort of Plutocracy.

    With other words: you are only talking about the 'modern' Europe. But what about the 'ancient' Europe? The Western Civilization and the modern way of the European thinking/reasoning started IN the ancient Europe. Without the 'ancient' Europe (Greeks & Romans) there would be never the 'modern' Europe!
    What set modern European science apart is the establishment of the experimental method. The invention thereof would be more accurately ascribed to the Arabs, though.

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    Good discussion going. I think there are multiple definitions of Western Culture which are used for different circumstances. For example in discussions about relations between Russia and "The West", "The West"=Liberal, Capitalist, 1st world countries in Western Europe, United States, Australia, a few others.

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    ^^
    You can't just define western civilization by scientific achievements. That's much too restrictive. Even if you were you seem to be ignoring the achievements of classical Greece.

    I'm not going to get into a long winded analysis of democracy. I would just say that in some ways Athenian democracy was also a plutocracy. The fact remains that this was not a development which took place in the east.

    Actually, I think the biggest differences between civilizations have to do with world view, ways of thinking about the world. That's what sets the west apart, and that all began with the Greeks. All of western thought is in some ways just an addendum to Plato and Aristotle, and that has affected the development of not only science, but religion, economics and political and social life. Philosophy influences the development of a culture even if most of the members of that culture have never taken a philosophy class or even know the names of any of these philosophers.

    I do agree with a comment you made upthread. The west has always been defined by contrast with the east and vice-versa.

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    2 members found this post helpful.
    And by what we drag the Greeks in "west".Whatever one will define it.If traditional western view hold that catholic/protestant countries are core of the west clearly Greeks were Orthodox,part of eastern empire,and if someone copied thoughts of Plato or Aristotle in some period of time what that has to do with anything.Greeks taking alphabet for example from Phoenicians or some knowledge from Egyptians didn't made them one of them.Ancient Greeks knew to much about Eastern Mediterranean cultures less I think about Scandinavia.I rather think is more imagination here and how we like to define our world including present day democracy and other things.This things are rather political.

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    Western culture means something different in different contexts. It may simply mean blind commercialism if as a middle eastern cleric you wish to condemn it. Or it can mean western liberal democratic capitalism. What it certainly isn't connected to in any context IMO is ethnicity so African Americans, medieval Spanish Amish etc all are in or out according to the context. The Amish would not wish to be considered part of western consumerism for example. Medieval Spain would not get far in being liberal.

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    When was the term Western Culture first used and in which reference? Definitely not while emperors and dynasties ruled. I would say it has a lot to do with kicking royalty off their thrones and the roaring 20s starting a new era. With the tiny interruption called Great Depression of course, but pretty quickly back on track right after that.

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